Erif (Georgina) Benham, the woman credited with saving Lismore’s Tropical Fruits and doyenne of the GLBT scene, died last week following a year-long battle with brain cancer, at the age of 57.

At the time of Benham’s appointment as Tropical Fruits chairwoman in 2000, the organisation was struggling financially and had been forced to cancel events. Initially working with little more than determination and a persuasive personality, Benham managed over her eight years to more than turn the situation around.

Her amazing tenacity and drive really brought Fruits back from the ashes and built it into what it is today, Tropical Fruits chairman Brett Paradise said.

The amount of energy and time she’s put into it has been unmatched by anyone I have seen. She had an amazing ability to bring people together and make them work for the community.

Unattached for the past decade, Benham often referred to Tropical Fruits as her only girlfriend. Despite this, Paradise said there was no lack of love for the woman who was like a mother and a sister to everyone in the community.

There’s nobody quite like her and she touched everyone in very different ways. She had one of those rare abilities to tell you exactly what she thought, but at the same time be able to listen and hear what people had to say, he said.

It was this sense of community which Benham had spent a great portion of her life fostering.
Even at this year’s event she kept on saying that, you know, community is everything. We need to love each other, warts and all, especially your warts -” and that was her. She accepted people’s faults and recognised that sometimes our faults are the bits that make us, Paradise said.

It was this quality that saw the 1978 Mardi Gras protesters stop outside St Vincent’s Hospital to salute Benham. Involved in a motorbike accident just days before the march, she was holed up in a hospital bed after having her leg amputated. Aware of this, marchers stopped along their path to wave and shout greetings through her window.

It was an injury that would in no way stop Benham from playing an active role in the community.

Paradise holds many fond memories from his ten-year working relationship with her, including seeing her in a rather precarious position.

It was the day of one of the New Year’s Eve parties and there she was with her one leg, up on a very unstable chair banging in a star picket, up on her one tip toes, Paradise said.

I just looked at her and thought, nobody else would be doing that. And yet, at eight o’clock, she was there, dolled up to the nines and ready to meet and greet.

Forever entwined with Tropical Fruits, Benham remained involved with organising the last event even after her diagnosis of a brain tumour in early 2008.

It was a level of dedication which was recognised this year as she was hoisted, wheelchair and all, into a prime position to be anointed the saint of the evening.

Tropical Fruits organisers held a special function on January 10 to celebrate Benham’s life.

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